Vinyl Night, Holiday Edition – Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas

One of my favorite holiday traditions occurs almost as soon as I emerge from my food coma on the day after Thanksgiving – listening to Ella Fitzgerald’s Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas in its entirety. If I’m not already in the Christmas spirit, I am by the end of side 1.

The 1960 release captures so many of the feelings that accompany the holiday, from the sheer exuberance of the full-tilt opening track, “Jingle Bells,” to the coquettish anticipation of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.”

Ella brings a childlike sense of wonder to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and a touch of the blues to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

The normally poignant “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is lively and upbeat. “Let it Snow” almost makes me wish it would. (Almost.)

And while Ella’s joy is contagious, what makes the album truly special is that she approaches the material with respect and genuine enthusiasm. Unlike a crooner reluctantly fulfilling contractual obligations or a pop star cashing in on a bland repurposing of holiday favorites, Ella treats every song like gold.

This is the First Lady of Song at the height of her powers, and the record features everything she was known for – playful improvisation and scat vocals, flawless delivery, boundless energy. Backed by a studio orchestra, she brings credibility and freshness to songs that have a way of quickly becoming stale.

This is holiday jazz at its best.

Homemade Eggnog

The ultimate Yuletide beverage. There are hundreds of recipes for eggnog, and mine remains a work in progress. I tweak it every year, and I’m not even sure where I found the original version.

It started off as a single serving, but the current recipe makes about two or three glasses, depending on the size of your glass and the generosity of your pour.

As you’ll see, I’m accumulating a long list of ingredients, which makes my eggnog unnecessarily complex. Then again, this is the time of year for overdoing it.

  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons superfine sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ounces aged or dark rum – I used Diplomatico this year
  • 2 ounces bourbon – I used Four Roses this year
  • 1 ounce GrandTen Distilling Amandine (see caveat below)
  • 6 ounces Silk unsweetened coconut milk
  • 4 ounces heavy cream

In a blender, beat eggs for 30 to 60 seconds. Add all the other ingredients; blend until combined. Chill thoroughly.

When serving, garnish with more nutmeg.

As I mentioned, this is an annual work in progress. I liked the Diplomatico – it gave the eggnog a nice bold sweetness, but didn’t overshadow the Four Roses. I always use coconut milk, which adds a somewhat unexpected layer of flavor.

On that note, I was pretty pleased with myself for thinking to add the GrandTen Amandine, which is a barrel-aged almond liqueur. I mean, obviously there weren’t enough flavors in there already, right?

Sadly, the effect was barely noticeable. The almond notes got buried beneath all those other rich ingredients. I’ll leave it out next time.

I thought about doing two ounces of Amandine instead but figured it would get way too boozy. And the last time I asked Santa for a new liver, he made me get off his lap immediately (which was his prerogative, but I thought summoning mall security was a little overkill).

Anyway, that’s a whole other story.

Enjoy the holidays!

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